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Long IslandCrime

Hempstead mother accused in teacher attack: ‘I put her down’

Annika McKenzie leaves Nassau County Court in

Annika McKenzie leaves Nassau County Court in Mineola on Thursday, April 28, 2016. McKenzie was charged in April 2015 with assault on school grounds and strangulation in connection with an incident involving a teacher in Hempstead, police said. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Hempstead woman admitted in court Tuesday that she “grabbed” a teacher in her daughter’s school and left her unconscious in a crowded hallway.

“I grabbed her and I put her to the floor,” Annika McKenzie, 35, told the jury in Nassau County Court in Mineola, where McKenzie is on trial on felony assault and other charges. “I put her down. I didn’t slam her. She was going down.”

Three teachers at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School testified this week that they saw McKenzie wrap her arm around the neck of math teacher Catherine Lang-Englehardt, 59, and throw or slam her to the ground on April 15 of last year.

Assistant District Attorney Rachel Lasry pointed to a video image of McKenzie walking away as the teacher lay motionless on the ground, and McKenzie admitted that was her.

Earlier in the day, acting Supreme Court Justice Jerald S. Carter dismissed a criminal trespass charge because the prosecution had failed to show that McKenzie knew or should have known that she needed to get a visitor’s badge at the security desk at the front door.

The jury is expected to begin deliberating Wednesday afternoon after hearing closing arguments and instructions from the judge. McKenzie faces up to 7 years in prison if convicted of assault.

McKenzie testified she went to school after getting a call from her daughter, a seventh-grader, telling her that the teacher had pushed her in the hallway. She said several times that she was not angry and just wanted to find out what had happened.

McKenzie testified that Lang-Engelhardt pushed her first and called her daughter a liar. “She just didn’t want to hear me,” McKenzie testified. “It happened so fast,” she said at another point. “I just wanted her to treat me with respect.”

She admitted she saw her niece, also a student at the school, punch the teacher. Her niece was charged as a juvenile and the status of that case is not known.

The encounter happened on a testing day and the hallways were crowded with students and faculty moving between classrooms. Several video clips showed the encounter, but some of it was blocked by the moving bodies.

McKenzie’s 13-year-old daughter testified briefly, telling the jury that she was walking with a group of girls she did not know when Lang-Engelhardt used a lacrosse stick taken from another student to push her against the wall. Under cross-examination, she said she had not initially said anything about a lacrosse stick and made a written statement for the principal saying the teacher “pulled my arm and pushed me against the wall.”

Lang-Engelhardt testified earlier that she suffered a concussion. She said she did not push the student or her mother.

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